Star mandarin to quit the corridors of power

15 Feb 01
Sir Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment, has announced unexpectedly that he will leave Whitehall at the end of May.

16 February 2001

Bichard is one of the most influential government officials and was seen as a front-runner to succeed Sir Richard Wilson as Cabinet secretary and head of the Civil Service. He is expected to seek a new job outside government.

Bichard is said to believe that five years in the post was long enough. 'I do believe that organisations benefit from a change of leadership from time to time, and equally that individuals should seek out new challenges, which is what I intend to do after a short break,' he said.

Insiders said there was 'nothing sinister' about the move. One said: 'He does what he wants and he has very clear ideas about how long one should stay in a job. He has a brilliant relationship with Education Secretary David Blunkett, so there is no obvious dissatisfaction.'

A DfEE spokeswoman said it was 'pure coincidence' that the news came only one day after Prime Minister Tony Blair announced his plans for the future of education.

Well respected in the education world, Bichard has presided over a revolution at the DfEE. Appointed from the outside after a long career in local government, he has tried to break the parochial Whitehall traditions by bringing in senior teachers and education specialists when policies are being developed in the department.

But his officials have been far from thrilled at this innovation. Bichard met with even greater resistance at a civil servants' conference last year when he proposed that potential high-fliers should spend two or three years in service delivery. This led to a minor rebellion among his fellow senior officials. In the end they agreed, with some reluctance, to phase in the proposal over several years.


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